Common foot problems

Why Do My Feet Hurt?

by Mark Paigen 10 minute read

Foot problems can run the spectrum from nuisance to seriously painful. While some like bunions and hammertoes are more common in women, there are many foot problems that both men and women suffer from equally. Understanding why these types of problems occur is the best way to prevent them or reduce their impact on your daily activities.

The Basics ---

  • Common foot problems include bunions, corns and calluses, hammer toes, morton's neuroma, conditions resulting from wearing high heels, runner's knee, and stress fractures.
  • While some of these conditions are more serious and painful than others, they can be addressed by avoiding certain types of shoes and wearing arch support insoles.
  • If you're suffering from any of these common foot conditions, we recommend Tread Labs Pace Insoles. They offer the extra firm support that doctors recommend and are available in four arch heights for a semi-custom fit.

Shop Pace Insoles


What You Need To Know ---

What Causes Bunions?

If you have bunions, you can blame improper biomechanics and genetics. One of the most common foot issues, a bunion is a bony protrusion that develops along the outside of the big toe. The bone and tissue surrounding the joint (metatarsophalangeal, MTP) become misaligned due to undue pressure on the toes.

Bunions can form if your foot puts too much stress on the MTP joint. According to WebMD, " about 10-25% of people have bunions" and they can happen at any age. People with flat feet and low or fallen arches are more susceptible to developing bunions, but other causes include:

  • Foot injuries
  • Arthritis and inflammatory joint disease
  • Overuse of high heels and narrow, pointed-toe footwear
  • Undue occupational stress on the feet, particularly in teachers, nurses and ballet dancers

While ice, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and bunion pads can help alleviate pain, once a bunion forms, only surgery will truly fix the problem. That is why it is important to take care of your feet before bunions form.

Fixing the biomechanical problems that cause bunions can not only halt the growth, but it can also halt the development of other foot conditions that result from bunions including hammer toe, corns and calluses.

To address your biomechanical issues, start by adding insoles with firm arch support to your footwear. Soft, cushy insoles won't provide your feet with proper support to correct your pronation. Make sure you're buying firm insoles that match the contours of your feet.

In addition to using insoles, wearing the right shoes will make a big difference. Choose footwear with roomy toe boxes and avoid narrow shoes or high heels. 

Learn more about bunions.


Women's foot issues - corns and calluses

What Are Corns and Calluses?

Corns and calluses are thickened areas of skin that develop on the foot. Caused by friction between your foot and your shoes, calluses form on the skin of the bottom of the foot while corns appear on the top or the side of the toes.

There are three main causes of corns and calluses:

  • Ill-fitting shoes - Tight shoes can cause "hotspots" or specific areas where your foot rubs against your shoes. Narrow shoes and high heels are culprits.
  • Foot deformities like hammer toes - the abnormal bending of the toe joint can create shoe fitting issues.
  • Overpronation - Overpronation causes arches to flatten and elongate. As this happens, the ball of the foot moves back and forth, rubbing on the inside of your shoe. This rubbing often causes calluses.

The easiest ways to prevent corns and calluses include:

  • Wearing shoes that fit properly
  • Adding firm arch support insoles that limit pronation and promote proper alignment to your footwear
  • Reducing high heel wear time

Read more about corns and calluses.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that supports the arch of your foot. The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is the feeling of pain and stiffness in your heel that is often worse in the morning.

There are many reasons you could be more likely to develop plantar fasciitis - you have flat feet or high arches, are an overpronator, wear improper footwear, have had a traumatic injury, or have limited ankle mobility.

Treatments for plantar fasciitis typically start with reducing inflammation, stretching and strengthening the muscles around your ankle, foot and calf, and protecting the plantar fascia from further trauma. The majority of people who develop plantar fasciitis recover within 6 months with the use of home treatments.

Learn more about plantar fasciitis symptoms and treatments.

Can Hammer Toes Cause Foot Pain?

Hammer toe is a painful condition in which your toe bends abnormally at the first joint, looking like an upside-down V. Most often occurring in your second to fifth toes, typically women suffer from hammer toe more often than men.

High heels and shoes with tight toe boxes are causes of hammer toe. Poor shoe choice is aggravated by underlying biomechanical irregularities including:

  • Flat feet - As your arch over flattens, your toes are forced to stabilize the foot. This causes increased pressure on your toe joints.

  • High arches – People with high arches often have imbalances in the different tendons in the toes (extensor and flexor), which can result in hammer toes.

  • Bunions – Bunions will push your big toe towards the smaller ones. This can put undue stress on the smaller toe joints.

You can help to prevent hammer toes by wearing shoes that fit correctly and have wide toe boxes, but you also have to correct the underlying biomechanical issues that cause them. Firm, flexible inserts that match the contour of your arches will stabilize your feet and slow or prevent hammer toes.

Find out more about hammer toes.

What Is Morton’s Neuroma?

Morton’s Neuroma is an inflamed or enlarged nerve in the metatarsals (toes). More common among women due to overuse of high heels and tight shoes, symptoms include pain, tingling, and swelling in the toes and ball of the foot. It can often feel like you have a pebble stuck in your shoe.

The main causes of Morton's Neuroma include:

  • Biomechanical problems like high arches and flat feet. Overpronation can also cause the metatarsals to rotate excessively, pinching the nerves.
  • Trauma to the toe nerves.
  • Improper footwear. Shoes that are too tight will squeeze the toes together. High heels over two inches will increase the pressure on the front of the foot.
  • Repeated stress on the feet.

Choosing the proper footwear can help prevent you from developing Morton's Neuroma. Look for shoes with wide toe boxes, thick soles, and heels less than two inches.

Most foot specialists recommend insoles to both treat and prevent Morton's Neuroma. Firm insoles that correct overpronation, combined with metatarsal pads that take pressure of your metatarsal bones will alleviate the pain Morton's Neuroma can cause.

Get the details on Morton's Neuroma.

Is Tendinitis Causing Your Foot Pain?

Each of your feet has more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and they all play an important role in your mobility. When one of them is injured, it impacts your daily life. However, because your foot is so anatomically complex, it can be hard to figure out which tendon is causing your foot pain.

When any of your tendons become inflamed, the result is tendinitis, sometimes spelled tendonitis. To get an official diagnosis and treatment plan, you'll want to see a medical professional for an evaluation. 

The various types of tendinitis that can occur in your feet include:

  • Achilles Tendinitis - An inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the main tendon of the foot which runs from the calf muscle to the heel.
  • Posterior Tibial Tendinitis - An inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon which attaches the calf muscles to the bones on the inside of the foot.
  • Peroneal Tendinitis - An inflammation of one of the peroneal tendons which wrap around the outside of the ankle. One connects to the little tow and the other to the big toe.
  • Extensor Tendinitis - An inflammation of the extensor tendon which runs from the front of the ankle, across the top of the foot, attaching to the tips of the toes.
  • Flexor Tendinitis - An inflammation of the flexor tendon which runs from the lower leg, along the inside of the ankle, connecting to the big toe.
  • Anterior Tibial Tendinitis - An inflammation of the anterior tibial tendon which lies on the inner front part of the ankle.

While tendinitis can be painful and impact your exercise routine and daily life, it is usually a minor problem that is easily treatable. Depending on the type of tendinitis you have, your doctor may recommend resting, stretching, icing and arch support insoles.

Find out more about tendinitis of the foot. 

What Causes Runner's Knee?

Runner’s knee, also know as(Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or PFPS, is a common injury among runners, particularly recreational runners. Runner's knee occurs when the knee becomes irritated due to the patella (kneecap) rubbing the femur (thighbone).

While overtraining or a sudden increase in training can set off PFPS, an imbalance is the underlying cause of the condition. There are two types of imbalance:

  • Muscle imbalance – Weak quadriceps (thigh muscles) and inflexible hamstrings can cause runner’s knee. Poorly conditioned thigh muscles don’t adequately support the patella, causing misalignment while tight hamstrings put extra pressure on the knee.
  • Functional imbalance – Biomechanical problems can lead to runner’s knee. The patella can be irregularly shaped and worn cartilage can result in reduced shock absorption. Biomechanical issues in the feet can also lead to PFPS.

Symptoms of runners knee include pain in the front of the knee, a grinding or crunching sensation in the knee, swelling on the front of the knee, worsening pain when you're moving, and stiffness after rest.

Women are twice as likely to develop runner’s knee than men due to having wider hips that cause the thighbones to meet the knee at a greater angle than men's, putting the kneecap under more stress. Insoles can help by addressing the biomechanical problems that can cause runner’s knee.

Learn more about Runner's Knee.


women's foot issues - stress fractures


Is Your Foot Pain A Stress Fracture?

Before you developed a stress fracture, you had a stress reaction. That's when your bone has weakened significantly but not yet cracked. A stress fracture occurs when the bone develops fissures in the weak areas. Both of these conditions are caused by repetitive actions that put force on the bone.

Stress fractures are common and can occur in the feet, lower legs and upper legs. While both men and women can develop stress fractures, female athletes develop these injuries at a higher rate than male athletes.

Older women who have gone through menopause are at risk for stress fractures due to reduced estrogen. Estrogen helps your bones process the calcium they need for optimal growth, and the reduced presence of this hormone in the body can lead to osteoporosis. 

There are several causes of lower-extremity stress fractures:

  • Overtraining or a sudden increase in training
  • Biomechanical problems like high and low arches and flat feet
  • Impact activities like running and jumping
  • Changes in running surfaces, for example, changing from dirt to cement

You can reduce your risk of stress fractures by eating healthy, training properly, and wearing the right footwear. Adding arch support insoles that correct biomechanical issues that lead to improper stride, uneven impact absorption, and most importantly, stress fractures, can help you prevent this common injury.

Learn more about stress fractures.

Are High Heels Making Your Feet Hurt?

Many women struggle to find the balance between comfort and style in their shoe choices. While high heels can take a look from frumpy to fashionable, wearing them frequently can result in a number of conditions that cause foot pain.

These include:

There are ways to wear high heels and avoid the most common foot pain conditions:

  • Wear heels in moderation. Use sneakers during your commute. Don't wear heels on your days off. Alternate heels with flats.
  • Choose comfortable heels. Wear 2-inch heels or lower. Find heels with wide toe boxes. Re-sole the heels with thicker rubber to provide extra comfort and reduce slippage.
  • Avoid certain styles. Very high heels (stilettos) can cause pain in the ball of the foot. Pointy-toed heels will cramp the toes.

Ballet flats are also an option for women's professional wardrobe. Flats distribute weight more evenly over the entire foot, but their lack of support can lead to other problems, including overpronation.

The best way to provide extra structure in ballet flats to help prevent foot issues is by using arch support insoles made for shoes without removable inserts.  

Check out these comfortable shoes for women.

How Do Your Feet Change During Pregnancy?

Like the rest of your body, your feet will change during pregnancy. Most often, your arches will flatten and your shoe size will increase, particularly during your first pregnancy. You may also find your shoe width increases and your feet swell.

There are 2 main reasons women's feet change during pregnancy:

  • Hormones. The pregnancy hormones estrogen and relaxin loosen the ligaments in the foot, causing the arches to flatten and shoe size to increase.
  • Weight. The additional weight you're carrying during your pregnancy puts pressure on the loosening joints and ligaments in your feet, causing further flattening and swelling. 

While foot issues may be inevitable during pregnancy, there are specific ways pregnant women can take care of their feet:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Work with a physician or midwife to follow a healthy lifestyle while pregnant.
  • Choose the right shoes. Avoid high heels. Pick shoes that provide both comfort and support.
  • Take care of your feet. Rest with your feet elevated on a pillow. Ice your feet. Perform foot exercises to increase circulation.
  • Wear insoles with arch support. Firm arch support will support your arches and and address any biomechanical issues you're having as your center of balance changes. 

    Find out more about how your feet change during pregnancy.

    Who Should I See For Foot Pain?

    When you've decided it's time to see someone about your foot pain, choosing which type of medical provider to see is the next step. There are several types of specialists you could see, so it's helpful to understand the differences between them.

    • Podiatrists - Specialists in issues of the foot and ankle who can provide surgical and medical treatments.
    • Orthopedists - Also referred to as orthopedic surgeons, orthopedists are physicians who treat abnormalities of the bone with a focus on musculoskeletal issues. 
    • Pedorthists - Foot care specialists who focus on addressing foot issues with modifications to footwear and supportive devices.
    • Physical Therapists - Providers who focus on correcting issues through rehabilitative exercises and treatments. 
    • Chiropractors - Practitioners who diagnose and treat joint issues through manual adjustment or manipulation of joints and the spine.

    To find a provider who delivers excellent quality of care, you'll want to ask for recommendations from your primary care doctor, friends, family and network. 

     Learn more about who to see for foot pain.

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